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How many noted the implications of the European Court of Justice ruling on Internet copyright three years ago?

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The European Court of Justice (the ECJ, “the European Supreme Court”) ruled three years ago that anything published openly on the web may be freely reused by anyone in any way on their own website. This ruling didn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserved, as it completely reverses a common misconception – the idea that you can’t republish or reuse something you happen to come across. The ECJ says that an open publication on the web exhausts the exclusivity of a work as far as the web is concerned, and that further authorization or permission from the rightsholder is not required for any reuse on the web after that, commercial or not.

The ruling was handed down on February 13, 2014, in the case of Svensson v Retriever, which was a case of a news snippets aggregator against Big Media. To the surprise of many, the European Court of Justice (the ECJ) ruled in favor of the news aggregator, Retriever. The ECJ focused on the concept of “communication to the public”, which is the specific action protected by exclusivity of the copyright rightsholder in the EU, and clarified that this concept — communication to the public — always means an act of communications to a new public, that is, one that has not previously been authorized by the rightsholder to take part of the work.

This nuance is crucial. In Europe, the copyright monopoly does not regulate which acts of publication the rightsholder has authorized, but which receivers have been authorized to take part of the work, by means of such publications.

It follows, that if you republish the same work, but in doing so, you don’t reach any new potential receivers than those which could already access that work, you are not infringing on the rightsholder’s exclusivity

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